Not So Fast And Furious: Judge Orders DOJ To Hand Over List Of Withheld Gunrunning Documents

Attorney General Eric Holder may have gone about his business with a Congressional contempt charge hanging over his head for the past two years, but the gunrunning scandal that got him that way hasn’t disappeared.

On Wednesday, a federal judge ordered Holder’s Department of Justice to hand over to Congressional investigators a list of the documents it has attempted to keep secret since 2012, when Holder citied an innovative interpretation of executive privilege.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson gave the DOJ until October 1 to deliver the list to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The order does not compel DOJ to surrender the documents themselves, but Jackson had indicated during a May hearing that she would force Holder to convince her, one document at a time, that the information should be protected by executive privilege.

The House Oversight Committee subpoenaed more than 1,000 pages of documents relating to the so-called gun-walking scandal in late 2011. Holder resisted, leading to the contempt charge on a 255-67 House vote that included 17 Democratic votes in favor of contempt.

The Fast and Furious scandal erupted when two firearms connected with the DOJ’s gun-walking practice were discovered at the scene where border patrol agent Brian Terry was murdered in a firefight with alleged illegal immigrants in late 2010.

“Gun walking” describes the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ practice of tracking the transfer of firearms through the hands of suspected drug traffickers, instead of intercepting the weapons – even though the agency had cause to suspect they were intended for use in the commission of crimes at the behest of Mexican drug cartel leaders.

GAO Report: Department Of Defense Violated The Law In Bergdahl-Guantanamo Prisoner Swap

The U.S. Government Accountability Office has found that the Department of Defense violated the law when it carried out the Obama Administration’s arranged swap of five Taliban detainees at Guantanamo Bay for the freedom of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

In a ruling released today, GAO General Counsel Susan A. Poling confirmed that the DoD unlawfully spent nearly $1 million in funds to make the swap, because the appropriations measure that funds the department specifically requires at least 30 days’ notice to relevant Congressional committees before appropriated money can be used to transfer Guantanamo prisoners.

From today’s decision, addressed to Republican members of the Senate Appropriations Committee:

At issue in this opinion is whether DOD violated section 8111 of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2014, for failing to provide at least 30 days of advance notice to specific congressional committees, and if so, whether DOD also violated the Antideficiency Act.

…In our view, the meaning of section 8111 of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2014, is clear and unambiguous. Section 8111 prohibits the use of “funds appropriated or otherwise made available” in the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2014, to transfer any individual detained at Guantanamo Bay to the custody or control of a foreign entity “except in accordance with section 1035 of the [FY 2014 NDAA].” Pub. L. No. 113‑76, § 8011. Section 1035 of the FY 2014 NDAA, in turn, requires the Secretary of Defense to notify certain congressional committees at least 30 days in advance of such a transfer, among other things. Pub. L. No. 113‑66, § 1035. Because DOD did not provide written notice to the relevant congressional committees until May 31, 2014, the same day as the transfer, DOD violated section 8111.

…Our opinion in this matter rests upon the Secretary of Defense’s responsibility to comply with a notification condition on the availability of appropriations to transfer individuals from Guantanamo Bay. This opinion does not address the Secretary’s decision to transfer the five individuals in this case as part of DOD’s efforts to secure the release of an American soldier. However, when DOD failed to notify specified congressional committees at least 30 days in advance of its transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees to Qatar, DOD used appropriated funds in violation of section 8111. As a consequence of using its appropriations in a manner specifically prohibited by law, DOD violated the Antideficiency Act. See 31 U.S.C. § 1341(a). DOD should report its Antideficiency Act violation as required by law.

Though it’s a slog to get through all that, most of it is self-explanatory. Congress funded the DoD through the 2014 Department of Defense Appropriations Act, setting clear parameters on how the DoD could use the appropriated funds in the event of a prisoner transfer at Guantanamo.

At the Obama administration’s behest, the DoD did not follow those parameters — specifically, giving 30 days’ notice to the Congressional committees that originate and oversee appropriations legislation — when it secreted the forthcoming prisoner exchange from Congress until after the transfer was done.

Not only did that move violate the DoD Appropriations Act of 2014; it also violated the Antideficiency Act, a law that (perhaps redundantly) states that it’s illegal to spend money that isn’t (legally) there. “We have consistently concluded that the use of appropriated funds for prohibited purposes violates the Antideficiency Act, because zero funds are available for the purpose,” the GAO explains in a footnote.

We will update this story as the consequences (if there are any) for the DoD or other government personnel involved become clearer.

How Much (Or How Little) Will $100 Buy In Each Of The 50 States?

Everyone knows that location matters in determining the relative cost of equal goods. It’s amazing, though, just how great a disparity exists between the costliest and the cheapest locations in the U.S. when it comes to stretching (or squeezing) the value of a dollar for all it’s worth.

The Tax Foundation is out with a new infographic that compares the relative buying power of $100 in each of the 50 U.S. states, along with some focused commentary suggesting even bigger value discrepancies between localities and metro areas.

The intent of the graphic is to show “the real value of $100 in each state,” according to The Tax Foundation. As a rule (there are exceptions), states that shelter lower wages are typically the same states that afford residents more buying power for their $100. Conversely, goods and services in states that offer higher wages usually also cost more than in their lower-income counterparts.

JPriceParity2012

What that means, in most cases, is that lower income and lower costs in one state — or higher income and higher costs in another — tend to balance out. Residents of lower-income states who manage to command higher wages (through pensions, independent wealth, etc.), though, can enjoy both high income and low costs — a sweet financial proposition for those fortunate enough to earn high and pay low.

The most expensive place to spend $100 isn’t even a state; it’s Washington, D.C. There, $100 will only net you the same amount of product as $84.60 would at the national average. Hawaii, New York, New Jersey, and California round out the list of most expensive states using The Tax Foundation’s metric.

By Contrast, Mississippi — among the nation’s poorest states in terms of wage levels and public spending — will stretch your $100 farther than any other state. In Mississippi, what $100 will buy, on average, throughout the U.S. can actually buy much more: $115.74 worth of stuff. Unsurprisingly, the best dollar-stretching states happen to be in the Heartland and the Deep South: Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Alabama and South Dakota round out the top five. 

The Dakotas — particularly North Dakota — present an interesting exception to The Tax Foundation’s low-wage; low-cost rule. “As it happens, states with high incomes tend to have high price levels. This is hardly surprising, as both high incomes and high prices can correlate with high levels of economic activity,” their report states. 

“However, this relationship isn’t strictly linear: for example, some states, like North Dakota, have high incomes without high prices. Adjusting for prices can substantially change our perceptions of which states are truly poor or rich.”

Viewed in terms of extremes, there’s a vast difference between the relative value of $100 in the nation’s costliest and least-costly states. “Regional price differences are strikingly large, and have serious policy implications,” the report asserts. “The same amount of dollars are worth almost 40 percent more in Mississippi than in DC, and the differences become even larger if metro area prices are considered instead of statewide averages. A person who makes $40,000 a year after tax in Kentucky would need to have after-tax earnings of $53,000 in Washington, DC just in order to have an equal standard of living, let alone feel richer.”

For an idea of how much greater the metro-level disparities are, see The Tax Foundation’s infographic, which it published in response to “a lot of requests – particularly from upstate New Yorkers.” 

That map generally follows the same high-wage, high-cost correlation observed at the state level, although rural areas provide perhaps the most interesting revelation of all:

It’s important to see that price differences do persist across states, even in non-metropolitan areas. $100 still doesn’t go nearly as far in rural California ($101.94) as it does in rural Texas ($113.64). It doesn’t even go as far as it does in San Antonio. ($106.50.) This suggests that policy – not just geography and urbanization – may play a role in these price differences.

A Struggle Within? Harry Reid, Democrats Increasingly Frustrated With Aloof Obama

As his second term matures (or festers, if you prefer), President Obama is leading the executive branch into closer alliances with lobbying interests and partisan donors. But he’s doing so at the expense of traditional political alliances, leaving his would-be Democratic allies in the legislative branch to fend for themselves when it comes to crafting policy and forging both intra-party and bipartisan political alliances.

Reportedly, Democratic Congressional leaders — especially Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — aren’t happy about it.

From an August 18 story in The New York Times:

The meeting in the Oval Office in late June was called to give President Obama and the four top members of Congress a chance to discuss the unraveling situation in Iraq.

But Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, wanted to press another point.

With Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, sitting a few feet away, Mr. Reid complained that Senate Republicans were spitefully blocking the confirmation of dozens of Mr. Obama’s nominees to serve as ambassadors. He expected that the president would back him up and urge Mr. McConnell to relent.

Mr. Obama quickly dismissed the matter.

“You and Mitch work it out,” Mr. Obama said coolly, cutting off any discussion.

Mr. Reid seethed quietly for the rest of the meeting, according to four separate accounts provided by people who spoke with him about it. After his return to the Capitol that afternoon, Mr. Reid told other senators and his staff members that he was astonished by how disengaged the president seemed. After all, these were Mr. Obama’s own ambassadors who were being blocked by Mr. McConnell, and Secretary of State John Kerry had been arguing for months that getting them installed was an urgent necessity for the administration.

But the impression the president left with Mr. Reid was clear: Capitol Hill is not my problem.

…In interviews, nearly two dozen Democratic lawmakers and senior congressional aides suggested that Mr. Obama’s approach has left him with few loyalists to effectively manage the issues erupting abroad and at home and could imperil his efforts to leave a legacy in his final stretch in office.

This anecdote aligns with the remarks of House Democrats, who told The Hill last week that Obama is shunning them — and they don’t know why.

“It’s hard for us to fathom; I mean, is it just lack of full staffing and resources? [Is it] professional commitment? Is it a disdain for the legislative branch? I mean, what is it? People like me want to be allies — I mean, I am an ally. So work with us, reach out to us; you know, we’re not the enemy,” said Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.).

“Not being consulted ahead of time — that just makes people crazy. Let us know ahead of time. Call us in when you’re developing something so we can give you our ground-level reality check about how this is going to work,” said Congressman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

There’s another side to the problem, though — one that betrays a more calculating aspect to Obama’s shunning of Democratic Congressional leadership.

Obama surely knows he’s toxic to many Democratic incumbents seeking to retain their seats in the House and Senate this November. He’s even demonstrated a willingness to show face on behalf embattled Democrats — even when they dodge their own fundraisers to avoid being seen and photographed with the divisive president. He knows, in many Congressional races, he can only get so close to candidates in their own districts without poisoning their efforts.

If Obama’s a political albatross hanging around his own party’s neck, it makes little sense for him to keep fighting counterproductive battles in legislative districts where Democrats want nothing to do with him. But he can (and does) fundraise on his own, and he can (and does) forge alliances with lobbying interests ostensibly outside of government — alliances that ultimately could prove more effective (for Democrats) than any relationships he might be able to mend in the 113th Congress.

Islamic State Has More British Muslim Fighters Than Britain Does; U.S. Claims Only A ‘Handful’ Of Americans Have Joined

Whether true or not, U.S. intelligence officials will only divulge to media that they believe a “small handful” of Americans are currently fighting as soldiers within the Islamic State.

But one British parliamentarian believes that the terrorist “caliphate” now boasts more British Muslim recruits than are currently enlisted to fight in Britain’s own armed forces.

Member of Parliament Khalid Mahmood of Birmingham UK told Newsweek on Wednesday that Sunni extremists have successfully recruited 1,500 or more British Muslims to fight in Iraq and Syria over the last three years – at least.

“If you look across the whole of the country [of Syria], and the various communities involved, 500 going over each year would be a conservative estimate,” Mahmood said, referencing the recruitment of fighters dating from the outset of the conflict in Syria.

Here’s more from Newsweek:

The UK Foreign Office said that they believe over 400 individuals have travelled to Syria since the uprising began, but said that they could not give exact numbers.

However Mahmood described such low estimates as “nonsense” and said that the British government was failing to deal with the problem of home-grown extremists. “We’ve not concentrated on the prevention work, we haven’t invested enough in de-radicalisation. It’s tragic, somebody’s got to wake up to it.”

The role of British jihadists fighting in the Middle East has been brought into sharp focus after Islamic State released a video showing the apparent beheading of US journalist James Foley by a masked jihadist who spoke with a British accent.

American officials confirmed Wednesday that it was indeed Foley whom the terrorist murdered before the camera.

Also on Wednesday, NBC News said U.S. officials do not believe Americans have been persuaded to join the Islamist extremists in numbers approaching those Mahmood believes have been recruited out of Britain.

“The officials, who spoke with NBC News on condition of anonymity on Wednesday, say they base that opinion on analysis and a string of recent arrests and investigations of U.S. citizens who have sought to join the group that is simultaneously fighting government forces in both Iraq and Syria,” the network reported.

Yet, at least in terms of what’s been made public, no solid information can confirm the assumptions of American intelligence when it comes to the Islamic State’s success in bringing in fighters into Iraq and Syria from the U.S. “The [same U.S.] official emphasized that the U.S. has no specific intelligence identifying any Americans as having fought with ISIS.”

That report also observed that even FBI Director James Comey has recently confessed that it’s impossible for U.S. intelligence to get a solid read on how many Americans in general – not just jihadists – have traveled to Syria. “When I give you the number of more than 100, I can’t tell you with high confidence that’s a 100 of 200, that’s a 100 of 500, that’s a 100 of a 1,000 or more, because it’s so hard to track,” he said.

NYPD Settles With Man Arrested For Photographing Police; Reminds Officers They Cannot Object To Being Filmed

The New York Police Department has awarded a $125,000 settlement to a man who filed a civil rights lawsuit against the department, following a 2012 incident in which he was allegedly arrested and strip searched for filming police officers on duty.

Brooklyn resident Dick George agreed to the settlement, only a few days after the department took new measures to refresh officers’ memories about the public’s right to document their activities.

In June of 2012, George allegedly began taking cell phone pictures after observing NYPD officers conduct a controversial, warrantless stop-and-frisk search of three young men in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. He allegedly told the subjects of the search to get the officers’ badge numbers, which led to a face-to-face encounter in which one of the cops reportedly said this:

Now we’re going to give you what you deserve for meddling in our business and when we finish with you, you can sue the city for $5 million and get rich, we don’t care.

After being charged with disorderly conduct, George was released that same day. But the lawsuit alleged that, “prior to releasing Plaintiff [George] from the defendant’s [NYPD] custody, the defendant officers purposely deleted all photographic, audio and video recordings from Plaintiff’s cellular telephone in order to destroy and cover up evidence of their unlawful activities depicted therein.”

According to The New York Daily News, the NYPD circulated a department-wide memo last month “reminding the entire force of the public’s right to record their activities on the street.” That memo came in the wake of a highly-publicized video depicting NYPD officers subduing an asthmatic Staten Island man, whose subsequent death a medical examiner attributed to neck compression from a police chokehold, as well as to chest compression from being restrained on the ground.

Republicans Actually Gaining Ground In House Race

As Michelle Obama goads party donors with hopes that Democrats can retake a majority in the House of Representatives this fall, people who get paid to forecast election outcomes just aren’t seeing it.

Political blog Roll Call’s Stu Rothenberg came out with a number of adjustments Monday to The Rothenberg Political Report — a much-followed analysis that attempts to predict how federal and significant state elections will pan out.

All of his adjustments lean toward House Republicans. From the report:

We’re changing The Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call ratings in a half dozen House races, all in favor of Republican candidates:

  • California’s 21st District: The race between Republican Rep. David Valadao and Democrat Amanda Renteria moves from Tossup/Tilts Republican to Leans Republican.
  • California’s 26th District: The race between Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley and Republican Jeff Gorell moves from Democrat Favored to Leans Democratic.
  • Illinois’s 12th District: The race between Democratic Rep. Bill Enyart and Republican Mike Bost moves from Leans Democratic to Tossup/Tilts Democratic.
  • Illinois’s 13th District: The race between Republican Rep. Rodney Davis and Democrat Ann Callis moves from Tossup/Tilts Republican to Leans Republican.
  • Michigan’s 8th District: The race between Republican Mike Bishop and Democrat Eric Schertzing moves from Leans Republican to Republican Favored.
  • Texas’s 23rd District: The race between Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego and Republican Will Hurd moves from Democrat Favored to Leans Democratic.

Those changes reinforce other media outlets’ recent prognostications. USA Today last week released a report bluntly titled “Why Democrats can’t win back the House,” blaming the Democrats’ lost cause on everything from GOP-led redistricting to voter apathy. The paper did mention Obama’s toxic influence, saying that “there is no wave [that favors Democrats] on the horizon, largely because of the president’s unpopularity.”

“Democrats believe, as competitive races become more engaged and the party exercises some of its financial advantage to get its message out, that some contests will turn in their favor,” Roll Call’s Nathan L. Gonzales wrote Monday. “That scenario is possible, but in many cases Democratic challenges aren’t developing as quickly as expected and some Democratic incumbents are struggling to gain their footing.

“Candidates, party committees, and outside groups are polling dozens of House races as they formalize their fall ad strategies,” he continued at the Rothenberg website. “And increasingly the news ranges from good to great for Republicans, and very few competitive races trending toward Democrats.”

That leaves the GOP to focus its real effort not on holding onto its lead in the House, but instead on retaking the Senate.

Everybody Wins! Participation Trophies Linked With Political Persuasion

More than half of Americans believe kids should get trophies only for competitive activities in which they’ve placed or won. But nearly half also think trophies should go to any kid who simply shows up, regardless of whether they excel or fail.

A Reason/Rupe poll conducted earlier this month covered a broad range of topics, but the trophy findings were interesting enough for Reason to devote a standalone article to that portion of the survey. Forty percent of those questioned said every child who participates in an event are deserving of a trophy, while 57 percent responded that trophies should only go to the winners.

Not surprisingly, the “everyone’s a winner” sympathy is stronger among people who identify as Democrats. Emily Ekins, director of polling for the Reason Foundation, broke down that relationship:

The desire for “every kid to get a trophy” strongly correlates with political beliefs. Fully 66 percent of Republicans want only the kids who win to receive trophies, while 31 percent say all kids on the team should receive them. In contrast, Democrats are evenly divided with 48 percent who say all kids, and another 48 percent who say only the winners should receive a trophy.

Breaking it down further, the survey found that independent voters who lean Republican had the highest level of support — 69 percent — for rewarding only those who excel. In fact, a majority from all groups (except for Democrats and their fitting 48-48 percent tie) from across the political spectrum believe only winners should get trophies.

It doesn’t stop at simple party affiliation, though. People who revealed they hold conservative values on certain topics were more apt to favor rewarding only the winners than people who said they hold more liberal views.

“Among those who only think winners should get a trophy, 64 percent have a favorable view of capitalism, 64 percent thinks markets better solve problems than government, and 63 percent favor smaller government providing fewer services,” reported Reason. “In contrast, among those who think all kids should get a trophy, a plurality (49%) have an unfavorable view of capitalism, 50 percent thinks a strong government better solves problems than the free market, and 54 percent favor larger government providing more services.”

In addition, those who have achieved a higher level of education and/or income were more likely to oppose rewarding mere participation. “For instance, a majority (55%) of those making less than $30,000 a year want all kids to get trophies and 42 percent want only the winning players to receive them,” the reports states. “In contrast, among those making $90,000 a year or more, 72 percent want only the winner to receive trophies, while 26 percent favor participation trophies.”

Progressives Everywhere (Except Texas Democrats) Think Rick Perry’s Indictment Is A Joke

It might be a handy Republican icebreaker to joke that a Democrat couldn’t get arrested in Texas these days — except that one did. Now Texas Democrats are trying to weaponize last year’s DWI arrest of a high-profile party official, flying the public disgrace of Travis County district attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, kamikaze-style, right into Republican Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential campaign.

Aside from Texas Democrats and, perhaps, Eric Holder, just about every liberal in the country is mocking last Friday’s indictment of Perry on two felony charges of abusing his power.

The Texas governor stands accused of following through on his threat to veto funding to the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County district attorney’s office — a veto he carried out because Lehmberg, having lost a significant measure of public confidence herself, refused to resign as district attorney and leave the office vacant for a Perry-appointed replacement.

The Travis County Public Integrity unit has jurisdiction over Austin, giving it special significance for its oversight powers in the capital city. It also has statewide investigative powers not shared by other county-level Public Integrity Units (such as the one for Dallas County). The Austin Chronicle’s Jordan Smith explained this in an Aug. 6 article:

In the wake of Lehmberg’s April drunk driving arrest and conviction, for which she was sentenced to 45 days in jail (she served 20), Perry vowed to veto $3.7 million per year in biennial funding for the PIU, which has statewide jurisdiction in certain kinds of fraud and corruption cases, unless Lehmberg resigned her post.

… The Travis County DA’s office has special statutory jurisdiction in insurance and motor fuel tax fraud cases. Because the seat of state government is here, the PIU also prosecutes other tax and financial crimes that may have elements that happen elsewhere because certain key aspects of the crime, like the filing of legal forms — think campaign finance, for example — happen in Austin, which is squarely within the D.A.’s regular jurisdiction, even if the fraudulent documents were filed by a candidate or officeholder from some other county. That said, Lehmberg told Commissioners, the kind of high-profile political corruption cases that the PIU is typically associated with — read, the prosecution of Tom DeLay — make up but a small percentage of what the PIU does.

“Politics” is the word. Republicans dominate state politics in Texas. Democrats long for the days of Ann Richards, but they have a bastion in the state capital: Austin, Texas’ most politically progressive major city and an electoral haven for Democrats.

Travis County is where all this went down. Lehmberg killed herself politically by choosing to put herself in a position to earn a DWI: a position that challenged law enforcement officers — all of whom certainly knew they were dealing with the district attorney — to test her and arrest her.

Short of getting physically violent, Lehmberg behaved about as badly during her arrest as a public official’s worst enemy ever could hope for: She tried to throw her weight around. She insinuated her crony ties could exonerate her, and that they could harm the careers of the officers handling her on the night of her arrest. She demanded special treatment, privileges that anyone — especially the district attorney — knows aren’t afforded detainees. She behaved like a petulant, spoiled, self-indulgent narcissist whose primary concern was for herself and her career — not for the safety or the liberties of the people of Travis County. She asked for, and swiftly received, the swift due process that eludes so many others stuck between arrest date and arraignment.

Oh, and she blew nearly three times the legal limit — a significant length of time after taking her last drink, getting stopped by police, failing a field sobriety test and being taken into custody.

Alcohol may be the answer to un-watching that. Here’s an interesting bit of conjectural sleuthing on Lehmberg’s alleged relationship with alcohol.

It’s very possible that Perry’s motives aren’t entirely pure when it comes to the long battle for control over the Travis County Public Integrity Unit.

“There is also a question about whether he had ulterior motives in defunding a public integrity unit that was investigating a cancer research fund that the Dallas Morning News called one of the governor’s ‘signature projects,’” The Washington Post offered Saturday. “They also note that some of those responsible for bringing the indictment have Republican connections.”

The Texas Tribune also observes that “[d]ismantling the [Travis County Public Integrity] unit is a perennial platform plank of the Texas Republican Party, and numerous members of the GOP … have criticized what they view as its politically motivated prosecutions.”

According to [former D.A. Ronnie] Earle, between 1978 and when he retired, in 2008, he prosecuted 19 elected officials, just five of whom were Republicans. Cathie Adams, the former Republican Party of Texas chair, filed an equal protection lawsuit over the issue in federal court last year. Her argument: Why should the voters of Travis County get to elect an official who has the power to prosecute offenses statewide? A frequently proposed solution — and one that state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, put forth unsuccessfully during the last legislative session — would be to put state corruption probes under the statewide-elected Attorney General.

Sounds like a plan. The squabble over control, funding and oversight of the Travis County Public Integrity Unit predates the Perry-Lehmberg face-off by many years, and Perry has seldom been criticized for emphasizing that Lehmberg lost the the public’s trust to continue directing its “integrity” office the moment she so richly earned that DWI.

And even Perry’s detractors outside of Texas think the indictment’s all kinds of politically motivated crazy.

In a posting titled “This Indictment Of Rick Perry Is Unbelievably Ridiculous,” liberal New York Magazine writer Jonathan Chait pointed out the stupidity of prosecuting the governor for threatening a veto:

They say a prosecutor could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich, and this always seemed like hyperbole, until Friday night a Texas grand jury announced an indictment of governor Rick Perry.

… The prosecutors claim that, while vetoing the bill may be an official action, threatening a veto is not. Of course the threat of the veto is an integral part of its function. The legislature can hardly negotiate with the governor if he won’t tell them in advance what he plans to veto. This is why, when you say the word “veto,” the next word that springs to mind is “threat.” That’s how vetoes work.

The theory behind the indictment is flexible enough that almost any kind of political conflict could be defined as a “misuse” of power or “coercion” of one’s opponents. To describe the indictment as “frivolous” gives it far more credence than it deserves. Perry may not be much smarter than a ham sandwich, but he is exactly as guilty as one.

ThinkProgress, which naturally will vilify any GOP presidential candidate, questioned the soundness of the indictment in the softest language it could conjure:

Though the state legislature probably could limit this veto power in extreme cases — if a state governor literally sold his veto to wealthy interest groups, for example, the legislature could almost certainly make that a crime — a law that cuts too deep into the governor’s veto power raises serious separation of powers concerns. Imagine that the legislature passed a law prohibiting Democratic governors from vetoing restrictions on abortion, or prohibiting Republican governors from vetoing funding for Planned Parenthood. Such laws would rework the balance of power between the executive and the legislature established by the state constitution, and they would almost certainly be unconstitutional.

Over the weekend, the liberal/progressive roll call of indictment doubters kept coming out of the woodwork.

Retired Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz told Newsmax he’d never vote for a conservative like Perry, but was nevertheless “outraged” at the “un-American” indictment. “Everybody, liberal or conservative, should stand against this indictment. If you don’t like how Rick Perry uses his office, don’t vote for him,” Dershowitz said. “This is another example of the criminalization of party differences … and this has to stop once and for all.”

“Unless he was demonstrably trying to scrap the ethics unit for other than his stated reason, Perry indictment seems pretty sketchy,” former Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod tweeted Saturday.

POLITICO’s Ben White tweeted a similar opinion — that it “seems quite perverse to indict a governor for exercising his clearly delineated constitutional authority.”

Even liberal celebrity Mia Farrow tweeted (and then deleted) her disgust, telling the world on Aug. 16 that “I’m no Rick Perry fan but the indictment doesn’t identify a law he violated. Looks like politics not felony” — before taking her posting down.

In the midst of it all, Lehmberg is still the Travis County district attorney.

Another Tech Giant Announces Layoffs After Clamoring For Immigration Reform

Cisco Systems, one among the dozens of U.S. tech companies imploring Congress to relax immigration laws and ease restrictions on foreign worker visas, announced last week that it will cut 6,000 jobs in 2015.

The company has made similar job-cut announcements in four of the past seven years, according to the Silicon Valley Business Journal.

Cisco joined with other companies and organizations in July, signing off on a letter to House leadership requesting “meaningful reforms to critical components of our nation’s immigration system.” Tech companies in particular have also led the call for Congress to liberalize the requirements for foreign workers in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields to obtain work visas.

Much recent academic research has been devoted to debunking the tech sector’s claim that there’s a shortage of qualified domestic STEM labor.

“[A]ccording to the National Science Board’s authoritative publication Science and Engineering Indicators 2008, the country turns out three times as many STEM degrees as the economy can absorb into jobs related to their majors,” wrote the Columbia Journalism Review in 2012:

So what’s going on? Simply put, a desire for cheap, skilled labor, within the business world and academia, has fueled assertions — based on flimsy and distorted evidence — that American students lack the interest and ability to pursue careers in science and engineering, and has spurred policies that have flooded the market with foreign STEM workers.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates has been at the forefront of the movement to import STEM labor into the U.S. Then Microsoft announced in July that it would eliminate 18,000 jobs.

A group of policy professors responded to that news with an editorial in USA Today, again calling attention to the cheap-labor corporate agenda.

“Those supporting even greater expansion seem to have forgotten about the hundreds of thousands of American high-tech workers who are being shortchanged — by wages stuck at 1998 levels, by diminished career prospects and by repeated rounds of layoffs,” the academics wrote. “… IT industry leaders have spent lavishly on lobbying to promote their STEM shortage claims among legislators. The only problem is that the evidence contradicts their self-interested claims.”

Ferguson Events Offer A Reminder: You Can Photograph Police On The Job

It is legal to photograph or video record police officers in public as they carry out their duties. And, as a recent court ruling reinforces, it’s absolutely legal to photograph police on your property, even (rather, especially) during the execution of a search warrant.

Just because something is legal doesn’t mean the police will honor it. That’s the crux of the argument for protest against police who kill in the absence of a threat, or those who, with much greater frequency, deny due process in hundreds of little ways to Americans every day.

The chaos in Ferguson, Missouri, over the police shooting of Michael Brown has drawn national media attention. Reporters from major networks and newspapers have converged on Ferguson to report on the shooting, the rioting and the inevitable, regrettable appearance of Al Sharpton.

But in doing so, the press has become a part of the story. At least two reporters for separate news organizations have been detained simply for documenting what they saw.

Here’s Martin D. Baron, executive editor for The Washington Post, on the Ferguson Police Department’s treatment of reporter Wesley Lowery. Lowery and another reporter from The Huffington Post were detained inside a McDonald’s after several officers came inside the restaurant, told them to leave and ordered Lowery to stop filming once he’d whipped out his phone to document what was taking place:

Wesley has briefed us on what occurred, and there was absolutely no justification for his arrest.

He was illegally instructed to stop taking video of officers. Then he followed officers’ instructions to leave a McDonald’s — and after contradictory instructions on how to exit, he was slammed against a soda machine and then handcuffed. That behavior was wholly unwarranted and an assault on the freedom of the press to cover the news. The physical risk to Wesley himself is obvious and outrageous.

After being placed in a holding cell, he was released with no charges and no explanation. He was denied information about the names and badge numbers of those who arrested him.

We are relieved that Wesley is going to be OK. We are appalled by the conduct of police officers involved.

At one point after the police had placed Lowery and the other reporter, Ryan Reilly, in a cruiser, Lowery wrote about the following exchange:

A woman — with a collar identifying her as a member of the clergy — sat in the back. Ryan and I crammed in next to her, and we took the three-minute ride to the Ferguson Police Department. The woman sang hymns throughout the ride.

During this time, we asked the officers for badge numbers. We asked to speak to a supervising officer. We asked why we were being detained. We were told: trespassing in a McDonald’s.

“I hope you’re happy with yourself,” one officer told me. And I responded: “This story’s going to get out there. It’s going to be on the front page of The Washington Post tomorrow.”

And he said, “Yeah, well, you’re going to be in my jail cell tonight.”

Lowery’s one foil against the cops was his power as a member of the press. It ultimately worked — he and Reilly were let go after spending a short time in a cell, with no charges filed.

But it’s vital to emphasize that his rights are the same as any American’s: It’s not illegal for anyone to record what the police do in public.

“The arrest and intimidation of journalists for documenting the events in Ferguson is particularly disturbing because it interferes with the ability of the press to hold the government accountable,” wrote The Atlantic’s Olag Khazan last week. “But actually, anyone — journalist or otherwise — can take a photo of a police officer.

“Citizens have the right to take pictures of anything in plain view in a public space, including police officers and federal buildings. Police cannot confiscate, demand to view, or delete digital photos. Private property owners can set different rules for recording, but it did not appear from Lowery’s account that the McDonald’s manager was objecting to his video recording… Police officers frequently ignore these laws.”

And there’s the rub. Americans must routinely weigh their risks before participating in legal activities — if the police are nearby.

IRS Contradicts Itself On Lerner Hard Drive Testimony; Judge Sets Another Deadline For Agency To Get Its Story Straight

The IRS will have until August 22 to explain to a Federal judge how it is attempting to recover Lois Lerner’s missing emails, as well as its policy relating to destroying computer equipment. The judge set the deadline after documents obtained via a FOIA request revealed agency officials had presented conflicting testimony, under oath, about the extent to which Lerner’s hard drive had been damaged before it was allegedly destroyed.

The order, given by U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, marks the next step in a long-brewing lawsuit against the IRS brought by nonprofit accountability organization Judicial Watch. From a report at The Daily Caller on the judge’s order:

Aaron Signor, an IRS technician that looked at Lerner’s hard drive in June 2011, said in IRS court filings that he saw no damage to the drive before sending it off to another IRS technician, leading some in the media to suggest that the lost emails scandal is basically over. But Signor’s statement, issued in response to the Judicial Watch lawsuit, does not jibe with sworn congressional testimony.

The Daily Caller reported that Lerner’s hard drive was “scratched” and then “shredded,” according to a court filing the IRS made to the House Committee on Ways and Means.

The IRS technology official who served as the source of the “scratched” and “shredded” revelation is believed to have looked at the hard drive after Signor.

Sullivan’s order seems to have been motivated by the obvious contradiction. Judicial Watch said that Sullivan made the order because the IRS’ new court filing featuring Signor’s statement was a “joke.”

You can read the rest of that report here.

We’ve been here before. Sullivan had initially ordered the IRS to submit a similar statement, under oath, in July, giving the agency 30 days to explain how Lerner’s emails turned up missing. In a separate lawsuit brought by Texas conservative nonprofit True the Vote, another Federal judge decided earlier this month that the IRS would not be forced (in that case, at least) to submit to an independent forensic investigation searching for the missing emails.

Meanwhile, investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson revealed today that another Obama Administration official had requested an HHS spokesman to delete an email she had sent pertaining (it seems) to the botched rollout of the Obamacare website, Healthcare.gov. It’s against the law for Federal officials to delete their work emails, which are instead supposed to be archived and printed.

From Attkisson’s website:

An email obtained by Congress shows the top official for Healthcare.gov at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under the Department of Health and Human Services, Marilyn Tavenner, instructed the agency’s top spokesman to “Please delete this email.”

The instruction appears significant for several reasons: First, the email to be deleted included an exchange between key White House officials and CMS  officials. Second, the email was dated October 5, 2013, five days into the disastrous launch of HealthCare.gov. Third, federal law requires federal officials to retain copies of –not delete– email exchanges. And fourth, the document to be deleted is covered under Congressional subpoena as well as longstanding Freedom of Information requests made by members of the media (including me).

Former DARPA Director Broke Ethics Rules By Encouraging Government Funds Flow To Company She Founded

Regina Dugan, the former director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has been scolded in a U.S. Inspector General’s report for improperly granting her blessing to agency contracts that were awarded to a company she had previously founded — and in which she continues to hold a financial share.

Dugan, who has given her own TED talk to inspire innovative thinking among would-be tech leaders, founded and still holds a financial stake in RedXDefense, which designs detection devices for drugs and explosives. She was the company’s CEO until 2009, when she departed to take over at DARPA.

During her time at DARPA, Dugan refrained from involving herself directly in any contract-awarding process for which RedXDefense was a bidder. But the company nevertheless received major contracts which drew the scrutiny of the Inspector General’s office in 2011.

From a report at The Verge Thursday:

[A]fter RedXDefense won $1.75 million in contracts under Dugan’s eye, a watchdog group called for the IG to make sure “DARPA selects and awards grants and contracts with integrity.” That complaint was filed in 2011 and an investigation got underway soon thereafter. Dugan ultimately left her post (and government work) a few months later to join Google’s ranks.

…In regards to the investigation, Dugan and DARPA insisted there was no favoritism, pointing to the many contracts RedXDefense had lost out on as proof. But the IG reached a different conclusion. “We determined that Dr. Dugan violated the prohibition against using her government position for the stated or implied endorsement of a product, service, or enterprise,” said the report.

That finding hardly took the form of a reprimand, however — the IG report did not recommend prosecution or discipline, and none has been forthcoming since the case was closed.

Publisher Frets Over Proposed Bergdahl Book Because Conservatives Would Use It ‘Against Obama’

A proposal for a book that would share the views of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s former platoon mates — that he was a deserter who placed their lives at risk — has found tough sledding with at least one publisher, who worries that such a work would give conservatives another tool with which to criticize President Barack Obama.

Avoiding negative publicity for Obama was crucial to one representative for Atria Books — a subsidiary of Simon & Schuster. Atria Senior Editor Sarah Durand, in email communications with representatives for Bergdahl’s platoon mates, reportedly shared her concerns after viewing a draft of the book.

“I’m not sure we can publish this book without the [political] Right using it to their ends,” wrote Durand. “…Conservatives are all over Bergdahl and using it against Obama, and my concern is that this book will have to become a kind of ‘Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.'” 

The “swift boat” reference alludes to contemporary critics of former Democratic Presidential candidate and current Secretary of State John Kerry — critics who alleged that he had not earned the military distinctions during the Vietnam War he later would tout during his 2004 Presidential campaign.

According to Yahoo News, the version of Bergdahl’s story his platoon mates wish to tell would portray him as a traitor, further stoking criticism of the Obama Administration for secretly arranging the prisoner exchange that freed Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban detainees held at Guantanamo Bay prison:

A draft of their book proposal, a copy of which was obtained by Yahoo News, depicts Bergdahl as a “premeditated” deserter who “put all of our lives in danger” — and possibly aided the Taliban — when he disappeared from his observation post in eastern Afghanistan in the early morning hours of June 30, 2009.

But the political furor over Bergdahl’s release from Taliban captivity — the result of a U.S.-Taliban deal to swap five Guantanamo terrorism suspects in exchange for Bergdahl’s freedom — is complicating the book’s prospects. Agents for the soldiers say that some publishers have balked, in at least one case out of fear that the project would bolster conservative criticism of the Obama administration.

The book proposal is also being shopped in conjunction with a movie deal. Bergdahl’s former platoon mates told Yahoo News they simply want their version of the truth — not the version the Obama Administration has so far promulgated — to be heard.

“We didn’t politicize this. They brought his parents out at a White House Rose Garden ceremony and presented him as a hero,” said Cody Full, who was Bergdahl’s roommate. “Why wouldn’t you just have a quiet press release? Why do you have to have a big parade? You don’t do that for the parents who have kids who have died in Afghanistan.”

A Look Into The Islamic State’s Power – And The Powerlessness Of Its Native Enemies

While U.S. airstrikes have had some effect – it’s not known how great – on the Islamic State’s jabs into mountainous territory where fleeing Iraqi civilians have stranded themselves in flight before a murderous land grab, many outside observers have been surprised at the relative ineffectiveness of Kurdish forces in the region at beating back the jihadists.

Vice News has put together perhaps the most thorough reporting package on the unfolding catastrophe in northern Iraq and eastern Syria, embedding a cameraman with Islamic State terrorists and affording the world a look at their operations from the inside. Vice’s five-part video essay on the Islamic State is required viewing for anyone wishing to glimpse the fanatical psychology driving the well-funded, well-organized and utterly relentless “caliphate.”

You can link to the landing page for their video series here.

On Wednesday, Vice reporter Hetav Rojan followed up on the video dispatches with an interesting piece breaking down the relative weakness of the Kurdish Peshmerga – the army of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq thought to offer the best local resistance to the Islamic murderers.

The Kurds’ lack of resistance, despite the Peshmerga’s best effort, boils down to inferior weapons, inferior logistics, lack of experience in fighting the Islamic State’s unique brand of warmonger, and poor cooperation between the Kurds’ two rival political parties.

Here’s a sample from that piece, focusing on the Islamic State’s weapons superiority:

While the peshmerga is technically one force, the two main political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), both have their own affiliated peshmerga groups. Both KDP and PUK forces have large stocks of Soviet-era weapons, vehicles, and artillery at their disposal.

When Saddam Hussein fell from power, the peshmerga was able to capture significant amounts of the Iraqi army’s battle tanks, howitzers, and sizable stock of small arms. However, a source from within PUK’s peshmerga told VICE News that spare parts for armored vehicles and artillery are scarce, making it hard to maintain offensive capabilities. Then there’s a very real shortage of small arms ammunition and artillery rounds, so the peshmerga forces are starting to lose the upper hand in battle.

The fall of Mosul on June 10 also meant a remarkable equipment upgrade for the Islamic State (then known as ISIS), as the Iraqi government’s roughly 30,000 soldiers abandoned their bases, leaving behind a massive cache of US-supplied armored vehicles and heavy weaponry. This hardware made its way to frontlines in Syria and elsewhere in Iraq, bolstering the Islamic State’s rapid annexation of the Mosul Dam and Sinjar.

Even though the peshmerga can easily outgun the Islamic State in numbers, the Sunni fighters may nullify that advantage with their better-quality weapons and more effective tactics.

Here’s Part 1 of Vice’s video documentary. You can watch all 42 minutes of their Islamic State piece here.

Martha’s Vineyard Golfers Frisked Without Warning So Obama Can Play Through

Rich guys hanging out on the golf course at the Vineyard Golf Club were surprised this week when they were suddenly approached by law enforcement – members of President Barack Obama’s security detail – and frisked without warning.

It was to ensure the safety of the President, who is vacationing and golfing at a rented home in Chilmark on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts this week and next week. Vacationers and residents were taking in a round of golf and dining at the clubhouse on Tuesday when Obama appeared, prompting immediate searches of everyone in the vicinity.

“Some regulars at the club were said to have been irritated at being frisked by Mr Obama’s security detail, who used hand-held metal detector ‘wands’ to check for concealed weapons,” The Telegraph reported.

The New York Post’s “Page Six” has more:

Regulars at the Vineyard Golf Club in Martha’s Vineyard were gobsmacked when President Obama unexpectedly strolled onto a nearby green and they were immediately frisked. “There was no warning he was coming,” sniffed a guest.

“There was security on the way in, but no word as to why they were there.” The member added, “While eating, overlooking the golf course, guests had to stand up and be wanded.” One asked if he could finish his hot soup first, and an Obama security man cracked, ominously, “So, you’re not cooperating?”

Obama reportedly smoothed things over by making the rounds and shaking everyone’s hand.

Wednesday night, the Obamas attended a party at a private residence. A good time was had by all.

The Washington Post’s Philip Bump was critical, insinuating that the President and his handlers appear tone-deaf to domestic problems.

It’s 11 p.m. ET, hours after law enforcement officers appeared on the streets of Ferguson, Mo., in armored vehicles, hours after two reporters (including the Post’s Wesley Lowery) were arrested, and shortly after another night of unrest and tear gas unfolded on the streets of the St. Louis suburb.

… Yes, citizens of Ferguson, you may sleep easier tonight knowing that the much-trumpeted party for Vernon Jordan’s wife Ann, the party at which Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were supposed to hug, ended amicably.

Some fellow Democrats are beginning to express their own frustration with the President, accusing him of being uncommunicative and out of touch with rank-and-file incumbents as they prepare for a Congressional midterm election.

“It’s hard for us to fathom; I mean, is it just lack of full staffing and resources?” Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) told The Hill.  “[Is it] professional commitment? Is it a disdain for the legislative branch? I mean, what is it? People like me want to be allies [of the President] — I mean, I am an ally. So work with us, reach out to us; you know, we’re not the enemy.”

Another Fail For Bloomberg’s Gun Control Spending Strategy

Another state-level candidate has failed to cross the finish line, this time in a sheriff’s race pitting a candidate backed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg against the incumbent sheriff.

Bloomberg-backed Chris Moews, a lieutenant with the Milwaukee Police Department, lost to incumbent sheriff David Clarke in the Milwaukee County Democratic primary election. Bloomberg had donated $150,000 to Moews’ campaign. Clarke won the election with 52 percent of the vote; Moews took 48 percent. Since no Republican is running this fall, Clarke secured another term as sheriff with his Aug. 12 primary win.

The money came via Bloomberg’s Independence USA super PAC. His involvement in the local election had everything to do with guns. And his intervention, late in the campaign season, carried the Milwaukee County sheriff’s race into the national spotlight.

From an article Wednesday at The Washington Post’s conservative “Volokh Conspiracy” blog:

The race attracted national attention last week when Michael Bloomberg put $150,000 into the campaign against Sheriff Clarke — more than the total combined campaign spending by Sheriff Clarke and his primary opponent Chris Moews.

…Sheriff Clarke has urged Milwaukee citizens to arm themselves for lawful self-defense. One method of disseminating this message was public service radio advertising in early 2013, paid for from the Sheriff’s Office budget.

This April, Sheriff Clarke spoke at the National Rifle Association Annual Meeting in Indianapolis — denouncing Michael Bloomberg, and recounting incidents in which armed citizens had saved lives.

Clarke had bought radio ads encouraging people to arm themselves against a rise in violent crime, touting Wisconsin’s Personal Protection Act and encouraging residents to “[c]onsider taking a certified safety course in handling of firearms, so you can defend yourself until we [law enforcement] get there. You have a duty to protect yourself and your family.”

Texas GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Proposes Deregulating Entry Points For Small Businesses

Greg Abbott, attorney general of Texas and the GOP’s candidate for Governor, recently unveiled a proposal that, if adopted, would put an end to State licensure requirements that currently govern such small-business occupations as cosmetology, coaching, dog training and interior design.

Under Abbott’s plan, the State would repeal occupational licensure requirements that currently bureaucratize a number of occupations that otherwise would be accessible to a greater number of small-scale entrepreneurs: barbers, hairdressers, towing operators, auctioneers and the like.

Here’s a portion of Abbott’s proposal as it relates to cosmetology, justifying the repeal of such licenses on the basis of their unnecessary expense and invasive government oversight:

Important  health  and  safety  laws,  such  as  those  requiring  sanitary  conditions  in  salons,  or  other consumer  protection  laws,  such  as  the  prohibition  on  price  gouging,  would  be  maintained. However, Texas should scale back its  licensing  laws  considerably.  Doing so will create more opportunity  for individuals and result  in increased  economic growth.  For  example,  when  Mississippi  repealed  its cosmetology  license  requirement  for  hair braiders  and  replaced  it  with  a  registration  requirement,  300 new  braiders  registered  with  the  state. Not only  did  they  relocate from neighboring  states, but  also stopped  working  in  Mississippi  in  secret  and  became  open  members  of  the  economic community.

…Requirements  that  otherwise  limit  the  ability of  qualified  individuals  to  pursue  their  chosen career  path are  unnecessary  and  should  not  be  adopted.

The proposal would also abolish criminal penalties for not obtaining licensure in fields for which it is not required by the State on the basis of protecting public safety and public health.

“A person seeking to engage in economic activity should not be made a criminal for failure to comply with a licensing requirement, except where public health or safety is clearly at risk,” the proposal states. “Just as a license is no guarantee that the holder will not engage in criminal activity, so the lack of a license should not, by itself, render the person a criminal.”

Abbott’s plan has drawn praise from conservative policy groups since its unveiling earlier this month. “Of all the proposals designed to help poor and lower-income people, this one deserves major kudos,” wrote the National Center for Policy Analysis. “It does not involve expansion of a massive government program, and it reduces the cost to those who wish to profit from their knowledge and skills.”

Abbott is running against Democrat Wendy Davis in a bid to succeed current Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry.

The Average American Has ‘Essentially Zero’ Influence Over U.S. Policy

An academic look into the driving forces behind American Federal policymaking concludes that the average citizen in the United States has “essentially zero” influence over the direction of government.

According to the report, even when a majority of Americans wants the government to do something, it is powerless against the influence of “economic elites” – the corporations, people and monied special interests that drive nearly all U.S. policymaking.

That information comes courtesy of a preliminary study draft prepared by Princeton University’s Martin Gilens and Northwestern University’s Benjamin Page. A final version of their report is due later this year.

The researchers culled public opinion data from nearly 2,000 surveys and polls taken between 1981 and 2002, juxtaposing the responses of median-income Americans against those of “fairly affluent” (90th percentile of income) Americans. Then they compiled information on the policy preferences, year by year, of Fortune magazine’s “Power 25” corporations, as well as the ten industries not on that list that had spent the most money on Federal lobbying. Then they compared each group’s policy preferences with the actual policy outcomes that took shape over that 21-year period.

What they found was that the average American citizen has virtually no voice in shaping Federal policy compared with the “economic elites.”

What do our findings say about democracy in America? They certainly constitute troubling news for advocates of “populistic” democracy, who want governments to respond primarily or exclusively to the policy preferences of their citizens. In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule – at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.

…When the alignments of business-oriented and mass-based interest groups are included separately in a multivariate model, average citizens’ preferences continue to have essentially zero estimated impact upon policy change, while economic elites are still estimated to have a very large, positive, independent impact.

Interestingly, the study finds that the economically powerful often have policy interests that (incidentally) overlap with the policy interests of average Americans.

“It turns out, in fact, that the preferences of average citizens are positively and fairly highly correlated, across issues, with the preferences of economic elites,” the authors wrote. “Rather often, average citizens and affluent citizens (our proxy for economic elites) want the same things from government… Ordinary citizens, for example, might often be observed to “win” (that is, to get their preferred policy outcomes) even if they had no independent effect whatsoever on policymaking, if elites (with whom they often agree) actually prevail.”

Turning their attention to monied interest groups (i.e., lobbies), though, the story changes dramatically:

But net interest group stands are not substantially correlated with the preferences of average citizens. Taking all interest groups together, the index of net interest group alignment correlates only a non-significant .04 with average citizens’ preferences!  …This casts grave doubt on David Truman’s and others’ argument that organized interest groups tend to do a good job of representing the population as a whole.

The takeaway is that the interests of “economic elites” and interest groups always trump those of individuals, whose chief power over government is the voting process. The interests of powerful groups can and sometimes do overlap with those of average citizens, producing policy outcomes that please both groups. However, when those interests diverge, it is the elites who nearly always win out, and the people who nearly always lose.

Report: American Wages Down 23 Percent Since 2008

A new report from the U.S. Conference of Mayors delivers a sobering, if unsurprising, statistic about America’s economic recovery since the recession of the late 2000s: Present-day wages in the U.S. are down 23 percent from their 2008 levels, resulting in $93 billion in lost pay for American workers.

Released Monday, the report finds that average wages for pre-recession jobs remain at roughly three-quarters their 2008 levels.

While the USCM touts the report’s usefulness in “addressing income inequality” under a task force headed by New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio, its findings are nevertheless troubling for those who instead view the Obama economy’s central problem as one of stifling economic mobility:

The annual wage in sectors where jobs were lost during the downturn was $61,637, but new jobs gained through the second quarter of 2014 showed average wages of only $47,171. This wage gap represents $93 billion in lost wages.

Under a similar analysis conducted by the Conference of Mayors during the 2001-2002 recession, the wage gap was only 12% compared to the current 23% — meaning the wage gap has nearly doubled from one recession to the next.

Among major metropolitan areas, 73 percent of cities (261 out of 357) have more households earning less than $35,000 per year than households that earn $75,000 per year or more.

Although a massaged Bureau of Labor and Statistics report recently proclaimed the addition of more than 200,000 jobs during the month of July, private-sector wages for the same period remained flat, continuing a post-recession trend.

Obama Administration Always Scoffed At Idea A Caliphate Could Rise From Al-Qaida’s Ashes

John Brennan, current director of the CIA and a former counterterrorism advisor to President Barack Obama, expressed the Administration’s dismissive attitude toward planning U.S. strategy around the real ambitions of al-Qaida and its offshoots back in 2011.

But here we are.

Brennan delivered his prepared remarks to the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies on June 29 of 2011, unveiling Obama’s National Strategy for Counterterrorism, “which formalizes the approach that we’ve been pursuing and adapting for the past two and half years to prevent terrorist attacks and to ensure al-Qa’ida’s demise.”

The idea that America needs to prepare itself for terrorism emanating from anything so organized and powerful as an Islamic caliphate, he said, is “absurd,” a “feckless delusion that is never going to happen.”

Scroll to the 15:35 time marker.

“Our strategy is also shaped by a deeper understanding of al-Qa’ida’s goals, strategy, and tactics. I’m not talking about al-Qa’ida’s grandiose vision of global domination through a violent Islamic caliphate.  That vision is absurd, and we are not going to organize our counterterrorism policies against a feckless delusion that is never going to happen.  We are not going to elevate these thugs and their murderous aspirations into something larger than they are.

“Rather, President Obama is determined that our foreign and national security policies not play into al-Qa’ida’s strategy or its warped ideology.  Al-Qa’ida seeks to terrorize us into retreating from the world stage.  But President Obama has made it a priority to renew American leadership in the world, strengthening our alliances and deepening partnerships.  Al-Qa’ida seeks to portray America as an enemy of the world’s Muslims.  But President Obama has made it clear that the United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam.”

H/T: The Weekly Standard

Eric Holder Spends $14,000 In Public Funds To Fly His Kids Around In A Government Plane; Pays Only $1,000 In Reimbursement

It’s completely legal for high-profile Federal officials to spend public funds to do private things, thanks to a convoluted system of rules governing spending and reimbursement for air travel expenses.

Attorney General Eric Holder, for example, flew himself, his daughters, his daughters’ boyfriends and two guards to the Belmont Stakes in June – a trip that cost $14,440 in public funds. But since he is legally obligated only to pay the reimbursement equivalent of what that trip would have cost on a commercial air service, he repaid the government $955.

On to the next trip.

The Daily Caller, which recently obtained the record of Holder’s travel expenses under a Freedom of Information Act request, fills in the rest:

Even for personal trips like this, the attorney general doesn’t fly commercial. For security reasons, Holder — like other top government officials — flies a government plane, though is required to reimburse taxpayers for airfare.

That one day trip to Elmont, N.Y. on June 7, according to records provided to TheDC by the Department of Justice, ended up costing the government $14,440.

But Holder only had to reimburse the government $955 for flying him and four passengers to the final leg of the Triple Crown horse races that day.

That’s because he only has to pay the equivalent cost of a coach commercial airline ticket for each non-law enforcement passenger — not the total cost to charter the plane.

Neither Holder nor other Obama officials is unique in taking advantage of the perks of government air travel. Look for examples of how President George W. Bush used Air Force One for fundraising travel, and you will find them.

Democrat or Republican, the ethics at play indicate a systemic incentive for Federal officials to take personal trips – with all the protections their power demands – that they otherwise might forego if they had to jostle with the business-class hoi polloi…while paying market rate for the privilege.

‘Transparent’ Obama Administration Blocks Inspectors General From Conducting Investigations

More than half of the Federal government’s 78 inspectors general (IGs)complained to Congress last week that the Administration of President Barack Obama habitually obstructs their lawful mission to conduct investigations into government waste and corruption.

The letter, submitted to the ranking members of the House Oversight and Homeland Security Committees by 47 of the 73 Federal IGs, never mentions Obama by name, instead citing numerous examples of stonewalling from agencies whose policies are guided by the Obama Administration — including the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency.

From the letter:

We have learned that the Inspectors General for the Peace Corps, the Environmental Protection Agency (in his role as Inspector General for the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board) and the Department of Justice have recently faced restrictions on their access to certain records available to their agencies that were needed to perform their oversight work in critical areas. In each of these instances, we understand that lawyers in these agencies construed other statutes and law applicable to privilege in a manner that would override the express authorization contained in the IG Act. These restrictive readings of the IG Act represent potentially serious challenges to the authority of every Inspector General and our ability to conduct our work thoroughly, independently, and in a timely manner.

Congress passed the IG Act in 1978, expanding the powers of IGs in a 2008 reform measure. IG offices have law enforcement powers similar to those enjoyed by the FBI; many IG officers are armed as they go about their duties. IG offices have subpoena power independent of the Department of Justice and have broad powers of surveillance over  government employees and contractors.

Even though a number of IG positions are Presidential political appointments, under Obama there has nevertheless been significant backlash from IG offices for stonewalling — a puzzling phenomenon that belies the Obama Administration’s oft-repeated boast of offering a precedent-setting degree of transparency.

“It’s not as if the IGs are a clique of obsessive, conservative Inspector Javerts,” observes National Review’s John Fund. “President Obama appointed most of the IGs in office today, and all those who were appointed by him have been confirmed by a Democratic Senate… That makes the complaints raised in the IGs’ letter all the more serious. More and more agencies are setting documents off-limits by declaring them “‘privileged.’”

Yet the Obama Administration continues to just say whatever sounds good, regardless of the crescendo of voices pointing out the obvious contradiction between wishful fiction and fact. Press Secretary Josh Earnest’s Monday letter to the Society of Professional Journalists, in response to SPJ’s recent transparency complaint against the Administration, is insistent that Obama’s transparency is real and magnanimous. 

“Simply put, we’ve backed up — with action — the President’s ambitious, early and ongoing commitment to transparency,” wrote Earnest:

The President’s commitment to transparency and the crucial role of the independent press is unwavering. The President has set an historically high standard of transparency that is part of the legacy to which future presidents will aspire and the President and his Administration are justifiably proud of these accomplishments.

How did SPJ president David Cuillier receive that? 

“Typical spin and response through non-response.”